Fat shaming makes it harder for people to lose weight

Fat shaming harder lose weight
Photo by Martin Lee/REX 

Millions of people struggle with their weight and are at risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Now, new research conducted by academics at the University of Pennsylvania has found that fat shaming can also increase those same risks.

A team led by Dr. Rebecca Pearl has found that above and beyond the effects of body mass index (BMI) and depression, higher levels of weight bias internalisation were associated with increased risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

“There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health,” Dr. Pearl said in a statement. “We are finding it has quite the opposite effect. When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress. In this study, we identified a significant relationship between the internalisation of weight bias and having a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, which is a marker of poor health.”

For the study, the team examined 159 adults with obesity who were enrolled in a larger clinical trial testing the effects of weight loss medication, funded by Eisai Pharmaceutical Co. The participants were given questionnaires measuring depression and weight bias internalisation before any intervention was given. They also underwent medical examinations, which determined whether they had a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, or had high triglycerides, which can indicate heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

Initially, no relationship was observed between weight bias internalisation and metabolic syndrome when controlling for participant demographics, such as age, gender and race. However, when patients were stratified into two groups, “high” and “low” levels of weight bias internalisation, those with high internalisation were three times more likely to have metabolic syndrome, and six times more likely to have high triglycerides as compared to participants with low internalisation.

“Health care providers, the media, and the general public should be aware that blaming and shaming patients with obesity is not an effective tool for promoting weight loss, and it may in fact contribute to poor health if patients internalise these prejudicial messages,” said co-author Dr. Tom Wadden.

“Providers can play a critical role in decreasing this internalisation by treating patients with respect, discussing weight with sensitivity and without judgement, and giving support and encouragement to patients who struggle with weight management.”

The full study is published in the journal Obesity.

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